The sight of a Rastafarian float wending its way along Lakeshore Blvd. during the Carnival parade elicited much curiosity and interest.
For the first time in the history of the carnival, the Rasta community was represented in North America’s largest street festival which attracts thousands of participants and a million visitors annually.
The RasTa One Love CommUNITY Trod float provided movement members and their supporters with a unique opportunity to showcase costumes that reflected social issues and values.
Donisha Prendergast, the eldest grand-daughter of the late music legend Bob Marley, led the float which was assembled as part of a strategy to promote her documentary, RasTa: A Soul’s Journey, which took her on a historic journey to document the deep religious movement that influenced her grandfather’s music.
“Even though it was not the typical route for a Rasta to go, we thought the float would be interesting and we would be able to reach a different market,” Prendergast told Share. “It doesn’t make sense to preach the same sermon to the same congregation all the time. Sometimes you have to step outside the box which is what we did.”
Prendergast admitted she was a bit sceptical when the idea was proposed.
“When we posted the Rasta figures that would be part of the float, some people said Rastas are not puppets (among the negative reactions we received),” she said. “Even I came around because I did not like the idea at first. But when I saw the figures in their regal outfits, I felt very proud to have been part of the float. Had I not seen Nation Cheong’s photo exhibit, I would have thought the Carnival was all about women in skimpy costumes dancing down the street. The exhibit helped me realize there is a history to the celebration and I really appreciated that.
“I had a ball just dancing down Lakeshore Ave. and interacting with people. It was educational and raised awareness because young people came up to me asking what a Rasta was and what is (the) 12 Tribes of Israel. It also helped that we had our own space because there were no floats immediately in front or behind us. It was the first time I have taken part in something as massive like this and the energy was simply amazing.
“Also, there could not have been a better way to promote the documentary than by a float that’s seen by thousands of people. You cannot pay for that type of advertising.”
The documentary, which offers an in-depth look at the Rastafarian movement’s growth and its significant influences in global societies, took Prendergast to the United States, Ethiopia, Israel, South Africa, Jamaica, Canada, England and India.
The visits to eight countries on four continents helped deepen her understanding of Rastafarianism and allowed her to explore the cultural and historical links between Rastafari and other peoples.
The journey started two years ago in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Institute’s Discovering Rastafari exhibit. In Israel, she spent time in a Kibbutz delving into the links between Judaism and Rastafarianism while the trip to England provided her with the opportunity to visit a former Rastafarian Temple in South London where Marley worshipped in the 1970s.
“Being able to observe how people are in their own cultures, but also how similar they are when you put them side by side is amazing,” said 26-year-old Prendergast who spent two years in Howard University’s Theatre Arts program before transferring to Miami International University where she graduated in Digital Filmmaking & Video Production.
The 90-minute documentary is expected to be released later this year.
“I want people to come out with an open mind and just relate to what they see as human beings and not as strangers to a celebrity,” said Prendergast who saw the documentary for the first time last Friday. “That’s what this film is all about. It’s about a young woman coming into her own and learning about her own spirituality through travelling the world to understand reggae music and Rastafarianism in this powerful message my grandparents have shared with the world and, even further, to understand how powerful Rastafari is outside of Bob Marley.
“Rasta did not stop with Bob Marley. He was just a Rastaman on his own journey and that is why I am encouraging people to begin their own journey and hopefully one day that journey will evolve into a mission as it has in my life. This journey has been like a call to action for me in that I am now in communities organizing and spreading the message.”
While in Toronto last week, Prendergast – she moved back to Jamaica after completing university studies in Miami – learned that RasTa: A Soul’s Journey will not premier at next month’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
She says she’s not disappointed.
“TIFF is a big thing to some people, but to me it’s just another opportunity to raise this film on a platform,” she said. “I however think this film has already developed a platform in the hearts of people and that is really where we want to be and not on the red carpet.”
Born in Jamaica three years after Bob Marley’s death in 1981, Prendergast’s mother, Sharon, is the biological daughter of Rita Marley who was adopted by Bob when the two married while her father Peter is an International Soccer Federation (FIFA) referee instructor.
The documentary is the brainchild of former TVOntario sales representative Patricia Scarlett who was raised in Montreal before coming to Toronto. She met Marley when he performed at Montreal’s Forum Concert Bowl during the “Kaya” tour in June 1978.
Prendergast said a major reggae concert will be held in Toronto to coincide with the documentary’s release.